Gillian Wigmore, Soft Geography

I wonder whether I'm going soft, or maybe I'm heading for a crack-up. Theresa Kishkan's Phantom Limb continues to bewitch me, but as I was languorously dawdling through its prose, along came Gillian Wigmore and Soft Geography. I charged rapidly through it, unlike the deliberateness with which I'm taking in Phantom Limb, but only because I couldn't bear to stop reading it.

These are two books I decided NOT to teach in the fall, for different reasons: Kishkan because I don't know quite what to do except wave it at the class and say, "See? Like this, like this is how you should write!"; Wigmore simply because I didn't manage to lay hands on it in time, and because there were other options. I suspect I'll regret both omissions, but on the positive side, I should be able to make it up in another year.

What to say about Gillian Wigmore?

Believe the hype, I guess, would be an excellent place to start. Every book comes with blurbs aplenty, and it's not unusual for a younger poet to be called an important/brave/talented "new voice." Wigmore's no different in that respect (Robert Hilles providing the relevant blurb here), but there's something quite different about her verse. Tonight, what stands out is that she goes after small moments with clear eyes; of course there's the occasional Big Move, but the poems keep ending small, precisely small, and I'm jealous about her skill.

The characters speaking here aren't all the same, so it's not a question of her having found a voice that works (confessionally, for example) and ridden it until the legs fell off. No, she's worked her craft relentlessly, and the result has been tremendous flexibility in the narrative or lyric voice. These voices share an eye for small things (a knitter's arthritic hands, a camper's presumption that a tent muffles all sounds) and a sense of enmeshedness in the worlds around us (social, ecological, familial, etc), but they come out sounding different.

"Marsh," "Tent: No Shelter," and "Bed Poem" alone are worth the price of admission, and there are a dozen more pieces here that deserve citation. I share with you a few lines, without telling you which poem they're from:
if here is the centre
of my own geography
and I am the remembrance
of yours--how is it
we are so far from ourselves?
we are so close
we are almost attached

And also, this post needs a link to Kate Sutherland's poetry challenge, to which this is NOT a response, because I was going to do it anyway!


Anonymous said…
but that clunky, imprecise "geography"--that seems like a young poet's abstraction!
richard said…
Actually it's neither clunky nor imprecise: this poem, like much of this book, probes and pursues and embraces senses of place. It really is about geography (and topography, and geology).

And what's wrong with abstraction, anyway? And I like young poets very much; some older poets write more smoothly, sure, but not always, and sometimes that smoothness comes at the cost of energy.
Anonymous said…
Wow, Richard! Great to be in such good company. I think Soft Geography is an extraordinary collection. She reminds me a little of Kathleen Jamie -- that same attention to the telling detail, the immersion in the geography of love and landscape.
Theresa K.
richard said…
Theresa, I so enjoyed your book. I read the last essay this morning, travelling to the likely death of my grandmother, and it was - you were - excellent company. As I said in an earlier post, Phantom Limb is the kind of book I can see giving away for a long time, to show off what BC writers can do.

I don't know Kathleen Jamie, but I just went looking for her: one can hear her reading here, at Poetry Archive. And obviously, like you I really enjoyed Soft Geography; I'm thinking I should track down Gillian's earlier chapbooks.
Anonymous said…
I think you'd enjoy Kathleen Jamie's essay collection, Findings.( Her poetry is very fine, too. I recommend Tree House.) When Phantom Limb came out, someone suggested I read her essays so I ordered Findings and promptly sent her PL as a little gift. We've had a nice correspondence, in more ways than one. Hers is a more austere voice but so richly observant, so caring in its contemplations.
richard said…
Thanks for the suggestions, Theresa - I'll follow up on those, especially given your phrasing of why you appreciate Kathleen Jamie's work. That was very nice of you to send a copy to her, too! As a reader, I keep forgetting how much like people writers are. :-)

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